Masterdisk Presents is a new blog series spotlighting some of the incredible artists we work with. Each episode will be a behind-the-scenes look at all the different aspects of music making in the new “Indie” music industry, focusing on the technical, creative and business decisions of the artists. We’re thrilled to celebrate these artists and we hope that you will find the insights into their motivations and methods interesting and useful.
This Masterdisk Presents post features New York-by-way-of-Philly band ZELAZOWA, whose new album Love is Lunacy was recently mastered by Matt Agoglia.
As Matt put it, “Love is Lunacy is a strong record, with great songs and performances — and it was recorded and mixed really well too. The kicker is how they have woven some of their musical influences through the record while keeping the sound fresh and exciting. It’s a record that you can listen to and discover a new layer with each spin.”
I spoke with ZELAZOWA’s lead singer and guitarist Bryan Weber, as well as recording and mix engineer Steve LaFashia, via email.
BRYAN WEBER – ZELAZOWA LEAD SINGER AND GUITARIST
Masterdisk: Hi Bryan. Give me a little background on the band.
Bryan: ZELAZOWA came together as a band around 2000. The four of us basically grew up together in the suburbs of Philadelphia and were always playing music together in some capacity. Kyle (the lead guitarist) is my younger brother, Terry (the drummer) is one of my oldest friends, and Ian (the bass player) is actually Terry’s cousin who I met years ago. It wasn’t until we officially created ZELAZOWA though and struck out on the road that things really started rolling (in my personal opinion). Since 2006 we’ve pretty much been touring all over the U.S. and Europe, releasing our own records, and having a ton of fun along the way. We even made it into this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for our song “You Say Love”, which is pretty cool. [“Say You Love” was chosen as the official song for the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue online video teaser. You can view it here. -JB]
Masterdisk: Who recorded the record and where? Who mixed it?
Bryan: We recorded the basic tracks for Love is Lunacy at Studio 4 (Phil Nicolo‘s studio) outside of Philadelphia, which in hindsight was a great choice/recommendation by our engineer and co-producer Steven LaFashia. The Studio 4 live room simply sounds amazing and really helped us retain a nice live feel for most of the tracks (something that has eluded us in the past). From there we moved to Steve’s home recording studio, Resonant Recording, to lay down the vocals and additional percussion parts. And finally, we tracked the strings at Forge Recording, also outside of Philadelphia, with the help of their house engineer Ron DiSilvestro. It was Steven LaFashia though that truly helped us bring this project to fruition and contributed in guiding it through it’s various challenges. He mixed the record as well – also at Resonant Recording.
Masterdisk: How were the sessions?
Bryan: Well I would be lying if I said there weren’t stressful moments but I think that comes with the territory. In general the sessions moved along very smoothly as we did a lot of pre-production before entering the studio and had a real “idea” of where we wanted to go with things. I think it also helped that Steve has known us musically and professionally for many years and he comes from the same ilk and musical mindset as we do. We had several meetings ahead of time and really forged a vision for the record before we ever even plugged in.
Masterdisk: How recent are the songs? Are they new? Been around a while?
Bryan: Like most of our records, Love is Lunacy is a bit of a conglomeration of all of our work over the last couple of years. The earliest songs were actually written while we were in the studio tracking our last record but there are certainly a couple of tracks, one in particular, that was partially composed while we were in the studio this time around.
Masterdisk: Did you have any artists or albums (influences/touchstones) in the back of your mind when you were making this record?
Bryan: Good question. I can’t really speak for the other guys but I was certainly listening to a lot of solo John Lennon right before we entered the studio, and I know that I really made a conscious effort to strive for the kind of lyrical and musical honesty that always seemed to be trademark Lennon. Some of us were going through a lot of personal stuff too that really pushed us to go deeper lyrically/musically speaking.
Masterdisk: Do you do everything yourself? i.e. label, PR, bookings…
Bryan: Yes, unfortunately. Ha ha. Just kidding. Yes, we are completely DIY which is pretty cool considering what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far. It certainly is not an easy road to take, and actually seems to get harder in some respects as we grow, but there aren’t too many independent groups out there that can say they performed over 500 shows, playing in all 48 continental U.S. states and 16 European countries in 4 years time, doing it all DIY. It’s something to be proud of.
Masterdisk: Can you tell me a little about your strategy for the record’s release and promotion — or the band’s general approach to these things?
Bryan: Sure. In simplest terms, our strategy is “whatever it takes”. Whatever it takes to get the word out about our new record and get it in the hands of the right people, that’s what we’ll do. Of course we will be attacking all of the social networking sites, digital distribution outlets, media platforms, etc., but I find that some of the best promo you can do is simply word of mouth personal and professional networking.
Masterdisk: What’s the release date?
The big release is set for Saturday, April 30th at The Note in West Chester, PA (just outside of Philadelphia). The Note is basically our hometown venue and we are getting a lot of our local musician friends to join us on stage and really make it a special night. Personally I am more excited for this show than I have been about a performance for quite some time. Tickets are going fast but I know there are still at least a handful available through www.thenotewc.com. Also, since Kyle and I reside in NYC these days we will be doing a follow up release on Friday, May 13th at Arlene’s Grocery in the lower east side. Come on out if you live local. And of course we will have links to purchase the new record on www.zelazowa.com and all of our other sites as soon as the time comes.
STEVE LaFASHIA – RECORDING AND MIX ENGINEER
Masterdisk: Hi Steve. Can you tell me a little about your background? How long have you been engineering/mixing?
Steve: I started out as a guitar player 22 years ago in the spring of 1989. My mother got me a guitar for my 8th grade graduation and I immersed myself in it. I began recording and mixing shortly after on a little Tascam 424 four track cassette machine. I was fortunate to be busy during high school in my hometown recording demos and albums for bands. I kept getting more work throughout college, all the while playing in bands. For the last 7 years I was busy with my band Jealousy Curve while juggling production and mixing. We had a nice run and played our farewell show last May so I have been able to focus solely on working with bands.
Masterdisk: Is it harder or easier to mix a record that you recorded? Or is it no different?
Steve: That is a tough question. Technically it might be easier to mix a project I have tracked because I know care was put into the recording stage and good miking and level practices were adhered to. But it is also tougher at times because I have lost objectivity and my first impression of the material is long gone. The ideal mixing scenario for me is to mix really well recorded tracks with a fresh perspective. Unfortunately that is more and more rare these days as so many bands are recording at home. The biggest issue I see is overly recorded tracks that are living at or near full scale. Gain staging is the easiest part of engineering yet the most overlooked.
Masterdisk: Can you tell me a little about the Zelazowa recording and mix sessions?
Steve: The Zelazowa record was one of the best experiences I have had in 22 years of doing this. The guys were professional in every aspect of the process and the material was a blast to work on. We tracked at Studio 4 in Conshohocken, PA on a Neve 8048 to Pro Tools HD via Digidesign 192 interfaces clocked to a Big Ben. All sessions were 24 bit / 44.1 kHz. The band set up live and we tracked like they were doing a live show. We did isolate amps and Bryan sang on his trusty Shure Beta 58 in the control room. We would do several takes of a song, pick a take that felt best, and move on to a new song. No grid editing or beat detective. I always try to treat PT as a tape machine minus the noise and tape costs. Once basics were done we added some overdubs. We cut all of the vocals for the record at my project studio on a Beta 58 or EV RE20 with NS 10s blaring, no headphones. It was really fun. One would think the bleed would be a challenge at mix but it really wasn’t. Dynamic cardioids are pretty forgiving.
I mixed the record at my project studio entirely in the box. As much as we would have liked to mix on the 4000 at Studio 4, Bryan and Kyle live in New York and recalls would have been impossible. I have come to embrace working in the box even though I love working on analog desks and grew up on them. When mixing ITB I basically setup a faux SSL 4000 using the Waves 4000E channel on every track and the 4000 Bus Compressor on my master, which I mix into from the start. I use a couple DVerbs and several Massey TD5 delays. I try to keep it just like it would be on a desk with very few effects. I view my levels like I would in the analog world and keep a careful eye on headroom everywhere. I printed the final mixes back into the session and we used the raw L and R multi-mono files for mastering.
Masterdisk: What else are you working on?
Steve: I’ve recently been mixing projects for Howling Hour, An Early Ending, The Aughts, Dave McManus, Comic Book Heroes, Jeff Campbell, Joey Maysky, Barbarossa Accolade and others. I begin with Amplifiers, Stonethrown, Codes of Clover, Blue Sun and several other acts in the next few weeks — both tracking and mixing.
Thanks to Bryan Weber, Steve LaFashia and Matt Agoglia for their help putting this post together.